DENVER – Even the NBA’s best team can’t do anything without legs. The Lakers looked out on their feet all night against a motivated Denver team seeking to avoid its 10th consecutive loss to the Lakers, counting the first-round playoff sweep last season. The Lakers’ previous low in points this season was 87 at Miami on Dec. 19.
The Lakers’ bench went off the deep end with possibly its worst overall game of the season. The reserves combined to shoot 3 for 19 (15.8 percent), and that’s counting DJ Mbenga’s 1-for-1 shooting and Jordan Farmar’s garbage-time basket before the final buzzer. Trevor Ariza not only missed all six of his shots, but he was out of sorts all over the court, and neither Sasha Vujacic nor Farmar was much better. On the flip side, Denver got major contributions from reserves J.R. Smith (22 points) and Chris Andersen (10 points, 11 rebounds, seven blocks) to go with an outstanding floor game from Chauncey Billups.
Kobe Bryant’s jump shot was off from the start, his leg strength lacking so his shooting form developing a hitch halfway up. Bryant (29 points on 10-for-31 shooting) knew his team needed him to carry the day but could never establish a sustained run the way he did back on Nov. 1, when the Lakers also shot their previous season low of 32.7 percent from the field but Bryant helped pull out the victory. This time, the Lakers shot 29.8 percent from the field.
The Lakers had been 11-3 this season in the second games of back-to-back sets. They didn’t have to exert themselves too much Thursday night to beat Phoenix, but Lakers coach Phil Jackson still said before the game: “These are the tough games to play in the NBA.”